Many states have a waiting period in place whenever a divorce proceeding has concluded, and before the marriage relationship has been legally terminated. The parties in a Massachusetts divorce are required to sit out during this period, which is called the “Nisi period.” In other words, once the court has issued the Judgment of Divorce Nisi, you still have to wait a certain time before it becomes absolute and final. The total waiting period from the time the court grants the divorce to when it is finalized depends on whether the divorce was contested or not. 

The reasoning behind this period of purgatory is that it ostensibly gives the parties time to breathe and perhaps to reconsider their decision to terminate the marriage. This is based on an outdated perception that the marriage vows are sacrosanct and that ending the relationship should not be taken lightly. However, should the parties have second thoughts about the marriage dissolution during the Nisi period and wish to change any of the approved terms and provisions, the courts make this difficult to do so since the Separation or Divorce Agreement and all of its terms have been approved and is considered final. First, both parties must agree and there must be a showing that there was fraud or material misrepresentation in the agreement, such as a failure to disclose substantial assets. 

Joint Petition for Divorce

Many parties in a divorce agree with the terms of their divorce regarding custody, alimony, and property distribution and file a Joint Petition for divorce. Once it is filed, a hearing is scheduled at which time the judge will have reviewed the parties’ Separation or Divorce Agreement, financial statements, and other pleadings. When approved, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will be issued after 30-days. From that point, the additional 90-day waiting period begins until the dissolution is final and absolute. The total Nisi period in this case is 120-days. 

Contested Divorces

If the parties have disputed issues, then one party will file a Complaint for Divorce. There is at least a 6-month period between the filing and service and when a hearing is scheduled. In the meantime, the parties have two options:

  1. To wait out the 6-month period and present their arguments at the hearing, or
  2. Amend the complaint to a Joint Petition

If the 6-month period has run its course, the parties could still enter into a Separation Agreement. Once the judge approves it, then the court will immediately enter the Judgment of Divorce without waiting for 30-days, though you will stay have to wait out the 90-days before it is final. Otherwise, if you amend the complaint to a Joint Petition before the 6-month period is over, you will have to wait 30-days for the Judgment of Divorce to be issued, and another 90-days before it becomes absolute. 

Implications of the Nisi Period

During the Nisi period, you are still legally married to each other and may not remarry. However, if the Nisi period includes or runs past December 31, you are still permitted to file a joint tax return with your former spouse. You can file “married, filing separately,” if you wish. There are also considerations regarding you, or your spouse being covered by a health insurance policy because policies will terminate coverage for one party either during the Nisi period or after the divorce becomes absolute. 

Further, if a party has been ordered to pay child support or alimony per the terms of the Separation Agreement, that party must begin or continue to pay support during the Nisi period. The payor’s failure to pay based on the erroneous belief that support obligations do not begin until the Judgment of Divorce Nisi is final runs the risk of a contempt of court citation. The Nisi period and other issues regarding your rights and risks during the divorce process should be discussed with a Massachusetts divorce lawyer. 

Retain Divorce Lawyer Heather M. Ward

Heather M. Ward is a skilled and highly experienced Massachusetts divorce lawyer dedicated to providing comprehensive legal services to clients from all walks of life. If you are experiencing financial difficulties, she will work with you at reduced rates to offer limited assistance. If you are contemplating divorce or have been served with a Complaint for Divorce, schedule a free consultation with her at (617) 903-8955.